Lockdown has affected mental health but charities and Leigh Park bipolar sufferer say there is hope
LOCKDOWN has taken its toll on the mental health of the population as people struggle with isolation, loneliness and anxieties amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While there have been people who have taken their own life since the pandemic started, the Samaritans revealed the true reality of suicides will not be known for some time due to the nature of recording the statistics.
‘Because of the time it takes to register suicides, it is too early to know the effect of the pandemic on suicide rates, and it is important to remember that a rise in suicide rates is not inevitable,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘Early evidence from the National Confidential Inquiry (NCISH) and the University of Manchester suggests suicide rates during lockdown in England have not been impacted in the way that many of us were concerned about.
‘However, evidence shows us that, as well as affecting people’s mental wellbeing, the pandemic is having an impact on factors we know are related to suicide risk.’
Other research has revealed a rise in suicidal thoughts since the start of the pandemic.
A study by the University of Glasgow published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that young people and women were among the groups to suffer more during Covid-19.
The study found suicidal thoughts increased from eight per cent to 10 per cent and they were highest among young adults (18-29 years), rising from 12.5 per cent to 14 per cent.
The researchers say that, even though those are relatively small rises, they are significant because of the short period of time they happened over.
Meanwhile Solent Mind saw 238 Portsmouth residents referred to its services between October and December by GPs, care agencies or by people contacting the charity directly.
Compared to 2019, the charity is discharging 20 per cent less people from its Portsmouth-based services. ‘This means that our mental health experts are having to work with service users longer than usual, in order to give them the confidence and resilience they need to cope with the unprecedented effects of the pandemic,’ a spokeswoman said.
Dan Warren-Holland, head of Solent Mind's Portsmouth Support and Recovery Service, said: ‘The pandemic has had a massive impact on people's mental health. We are seeing a lot of isolated residents, many of whom no longer have much social contact or even facilities like the gym, to support their day-to-day wellbeing. People are feeling anxious and needing support for longer periods of time.’
Leigh Park bipolar sufferer Steph Chaplen wants to use her experiences to help people and raise awareness of suicide, which she says is still a ‘taboo’ subject.
‘I want to raise awareness of suicide,’ the 64-year-old said. ‘People don’t like talking about it. A lot more needs to be done to help people.
‘It’s often the quiet ones who give no indication of what’s going on in their mind that you need to watch out for. They are usually very secretive and give no outward signs of their struggles.
‘These people end up taking their own life because they can’t voice their problems and feel no one cares. They feel past the point of wanting help and don’t want to admit they can’t help themselves.’
Steph has battled her inner demons for 40 years and made a number of attempts on her life and was left ‘flabbergasted’ when a friend took her own life last year - prompting her to take action to help others.
‘I’ve tried many times to take my own life over the years. It's amazing I’m still alive,’ she said. ‘With my bipolar I can suffer a profound depression that can last up to six months. I feel life is worthless. It is very bleak.
‘When I have the mania I feel very high and creative and can have psychosis at this time. It is only when I have the low mood that I am a danger, though.’
She believes simple gestures can make a difference to people’s wellbeing and even potentially prevent suicide.
‘Hopefully people can be more supportive to each other, check on others, call people, knock on their door, say “hello” or smile to others in the street and engage in conversation,’ she said. ‘It might just change their mindset and jolt them back into reality.
‘It’s important to let people know they are thought of. Every life is special and every life lost is a tragedy.’
Steph says keeping busy and helping others during lockdown has helped her. ‘I find ways of dealing with it like going out every day even if it’s just to Tesco and have a chat with the staff,’ she said.
‘At home I may watch a film or program or listen to some music or ring people.’
Steph, who has been training on a mental health course, has also been ringing people in need during lockdown. ‘A two minute call can make their day,’ she said.
She still thinks more can be done in Hampshire to support others - with a ‘proper safe haven’ where people can just turn up top of her list of priorities. ‘One day I will run my own centre with volunteers who have gone through difficulties,’ she said.
In the meantime Steph plans on hosting an artwork exhibition at Leigh Park Community Centre in September to raise awareness of issues and help others with useful information on the topic of mental health and suicide prevention.
Meanwhile, the Samaritans said it remains busy and has offered advice to those struggling. ‘Our volunteers have provided emotional support over 1.7 million times since social distancing restrictions began in March 2020,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘Our volunteers have been hearing from people feeling concerned about isolation, unemployment, mental health and illness amongst other issues.
‘Now more than ever, it is essential that we look after our own mental health and others by continuing to check in on one another and sharing how we are feeling whether it’s with a friend, family member or a confidential helpline like Samaritans. Our volunteers are always there to listen and they won’t judge or tell you what to do.’
Solent Mind said it is important for people to accept and let go of things outside of their control, to take each day as it comes and to keep talking and find support.
PAPYRUS, a charity that helps prevent suicide in the under 35 said ‘there are no accurate or reliable figures for suicides during 2020’ with the latest available data from ONS (Office for National Statistics) being in 2018, so it is ‘important not to assume there has been an increase’.
However, during lockdown the charity saw a 28 per cent increase in contacts.
Ged Flynn, chief executive of PAPYRUS, said around nine in 10 calls, texts and emails to its HOPELINEUK service since lockdown referenced coronavirus, with children and young adults concerned about their own mental health or about the livelihood of loved ones.
He said many were concerned about a loss of income, domestic violence and abuse, and the potential to become infected with Covid-19.
‘There is concern in the charity that there will be a longer-term problem of emotional distress post-lockdown. I fear that a whole generation of young people may feel the impact of the current crisis for a good while yet,’ he said.
‘We are already taking high volumes of calls, texts and emails from young people every day with thoughts of suicide or from those who fear for somebody in their family or place of work who may have. Call rates are now increasing.’
PAPYRUS has launched an emergency appeal to raise awareness, urging people to share hope, let everyone know help is available and save lives.
‘Suicidal ideation is already complex but if we add in the reality of lockdown and what may follow into that mix, then we are talking about an even more-tangled web of difficulty for people, the likes of which they have never experienced,’ added Mr Flynn.
‘For children and young people, these are bewildering times. For those who are vulnerable to suicide ideation, they can be particularly difficult.’
The charity wants people to talk openly about suicide, help to ‘smash the stigma around it’, learn to spot the signs that someone is struggling and let people know that help is available.
PAPYRUS says it has two messages to help young people. ‘Parents – don’t wait until you identify that your child may be in distress before reaching out,’ Mr Flynn said.
‘And to young people – don’t suffer in silence, find the courage, you can talk to us.’
For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email [email protected]
Speak with a mental health expert at Solent Mind on 023 8017 9049, between 8am-8pm.